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Loving God and Loving Sex: An Open Letter to the Black Christian Community

June 3, 2012

Love and expressing love through physical intimacy can be among the most beautiful experiences that life has to offer.  That is one of the reasons why I was so excited when beginning the endeavor of creating Loveessence.  But clearly, I would be irresponsible to discuss the beautiful possibilities of love and love-making without also discussing the potentially harmful consequences such as sexually transmitted diseases.  Unfortunately, the topic appears to be taboo in some circles.  But I pray that we love ourselves and others enough to be honest about these issues and take responsibility for our sexual health and well-being.  This particular article focuses on black churches. While some black churches have been incredibly vocal about issues surround sexual health, others have been completely silent. Given the pivotal role of black churches with respect to civil rights and other relevant issues it behooves such churches to encourage members of their congregations to know their STD status and protect themselves.

This open letter was featured on the Grio on May 14, 2012 and on Madame Noire on May 15, 2012.

We are currently in the midst of a crisis and we are being posed with the decision of whether we are going to choose blindness and live in a Christian dream world surrounding sex or open our eyes to the dire reality and follow a calling of love, non-judgment and compassion.

The crisis does not surround whether Rihanna is dating Chris Brown again or whether to side with President Obama or Bristol Palin on the issue of gay marriage. The crisis is HIV/AIDS.  Although the overall numbers of new HIV infections in the United States have been relatively stable, recently there have been disturbing increases in infections in some groups such as low income heterosexuals of all races, African-American men and women and senior citizens. The estimated rate of new HIV infections for black women was more than 15 times as high as that of white women and the estimated rate of new HIV infections for black men was more than 6.5 times as high as that of white men in 2009. But perhaps the most staggering statistics are that 1 in 30 African-American women and 1 in 16 African-American men will be diagnosed with HIV
in their lifetimes, if current rates of infection persist.

Christian leaders may point out that in their ideal Christian world the HIV/AIDS pandemic would be greatly limited because no one would fornicate, commit adultery or engage in sodomy. In such a world, HIV/AIDS diagnoses would primarily be found among people who were exposed to infected blood and medical needles and their lawfully wedded spouses.

But we are not living in that world. The Reverend Jesse Jackson’s extramarital affair which resulted in a child, allegations of Bishop Eddie Long’s sexual acts with underage boys, gospel singer Kirk Franklin’s admission of past porn addiction and ‘Sunday Best’ winner Le’Andria Johnson’s out-of-wedlock pregnancy demonstrate that even those who believe that they have been called to minister God’s word through sermons, counseling and music struggle with their own interpretations of the Bible’s commands. It should therefore come as no surprise that the followers and fans in the pews are similarly struggling. Chevonne Harris’s article “Single Saved – and Having Sex” discusses this struggle and the decision that many young Christians have made to engage in premarital sex while still expressing a steadfast devotion to their faith.

So what should be the response to this phenomenon? I personally would advocate that we elevate the most universal, transcendent and inspiring aspects of the Christian faith by embodying the concepts of God’s love, self-love, human love, compassion and non-judgment as described in books such as Corinthians and Mathews. Self-love, human love, compassion
and non-judgment dictate that each sexual interaction is loving, respectful, fully-consensual and very safe. These virtues dictate that we raise our voices to encourage widespread condom use to preserve the health of the uninfected. These virtues also inspire us to support those infected such as Tonya Rasberry who contracted HIV from her husband and my family friend’s 13 year-old male patient who contracted HIV after he and his boys “ran-through” a 13 year-old girl who knew she was infected when she invited the boys to have sex with her but did not disclose it. The young boy, overwhelmed with the lifetime consequences that a fleeting decision has wrought, is currently taking both anti-depression and anti-retroviral medications. These people and the millions of men and women like Terri Gardner who simply loved, trusted and had unprotected sex with people that they were dating deserve our compassion.

Many of you will feel as if I am “preaching to the choir” because churches such as Trinity United Church of Christ in Chicago and Progressive M.B. Church in Indianapolis have recognized the unique and historical position of leadership and influence of African-American churches and have engaged in HIV/AIDS activism for decades. Additionally, groups of first ladies and
female pastors in Chicago and Los Angeles organize widespread on-site health screenings for HIV/AIDS as well as diabetes, hypertension, Hepatitis C and other ailments. But clearly, more can be done. If we sit around waiting for some other group to act, we just may one day discover that we are the ones that we have been waiting for.

Contact the Danielle Ashley Group at 312-470-0270 if you would like to organize a day of health
screenings among churches in your city.

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